Pokémon Sword & Shield is now finally complete with the release of The Crown Tundra, the second part of the DLC pass to go alongside The Isle of Armor. But how does it stack up compared to its great – if inconsistent – main game? Well, we’ll tell you, because we’re nice like that.
We have to be honest, our first impressions of The Crown Tundra weren’t outstanding; as you arrive you’re forced into a conversation, and inevitable Pokémon battle, with a father and his daughter. You’re given the option to interject and help the daughter out of an embarrassing expedition with her father, or just leave their business as their business; we decided to try the latter, just to test the waters. But oh no, even though the conversation ends you can’t go any further into the world, you must settle this disagreement between two perfect strangers. We were immediately hit with a worrying sense of ‘here we go again’.
The father of the two, Peony, is a rambunctious caricature of an overzealous and over-excitable dad. He’s over-the-top, dramatic, and painfully cheesy. We love him. He has all the ingredients of an irritating character, but his dialogue and cheery disposition along with his genuinely hilarious names for quests somehow make him work. His daughter Peonia is a much more straight-laced individual, and has little time for her father’s antics, but she too is likeable and didn’t grate on us.
After being driven down a very straight series of conversations and brief moments of walking before another conversation with the same character or characters (something that we complained about in our review for the base game, as well as The Isle of Armor), you’re taken into the first new addition to this DLC, Dynamax Adventures. In these you must venture through a Max Lair and take on any number of Dynamaxed beasties with three others before potentially getting your hands on a rare legendary at the end, also Dynamaxed. You can’t use your own Pokémon in these, rather you have to pick from a selection of rental Pokémon instead.
At first we felt this was a bit naff, why would anyone want to take in some randomly generated monsters instead of the ones we’ve all been raising? But after giving it a go, we can see why. By forcing you to not use your own ‘mon you’re instead thrown into battles and strategies you otherwise wouldn’t encounter. It also means the battles are balanced nicely, stopping the whole thing from being a cakewalk, and truth be told our first run was a lot closer than we expected. You’re required to get to the end without getting knocked out four times, just like a standard Max Raid Battle, but any losses are universal throughout your entire run — sneaky! At the end you’re asked which Pokémon of the ones you caught you want to keep, and realistically it’ll nearly always be the legendary from the end, but it’s nice to have a choice.
After this you’re thrust into the town of Freezington and your adventure starts proper. You agree to replace Peony’s daughter on his ‘Adven-tour’ and are given three quests to follow.
The primary quest has you discovering all about Calyrex — known to the natives as the King of Bountiful Harvests — and where they’ve been hiding all this time. You’ll meet the king himself, speak to him (which felt quite jarring and of whom we weren’t all that fond of), perform a series of tasks to bring him back to power, and eventually shove him in a tiny ball for your own amusement.
This is where the bulk of the direct narrative happens, and it’s fine, but nothing much more than that. We found it hard to get invested in the world or its characters due to how we’ve only just bloomin’ arrived, and the tasks didn’t amount to much more than fetch quests. Not terrible by any means, but hardly memorable either.
The second quest is all about the fabled Regis that first appeared in Ruby & Sapphire, who are residing in ancient ruins that no one has been able to access for countless years. When you reach one of these ruins you have to solve an achingly simple puzzle and then — boom! — it’s regicide time. Given just how obtuse and complicated it was to get these giants in their original games, we were quite disappointed with how straightforward it was this time around; one of the puzzles is so basic you can solve it the first time you read it, and without having to have anything specific about your person.
We understand that paid DLC shouldn’t necessarily lock its rewards behind gameplay too complex, but even if you needed to go adventuring to discover the clues rather than them just being plastered upon the door we feel it would’ve given this quest not only more weight, but a considerably longer run time. As it stands it’s nice to see the Regis return, but we think they deserve a little bit more love, especially if these ruins have supposedly kept the presumably ultra-dim-witted populace out for years.
The third quest though? Oh sweet lordy, this one’s good. The premise is simple, you run up to an oversized tree and that’s the cue for the original three legendary birds to appear in their shiny new Galarian forms. A cutscene is triggered that is dramatic, exciting, and well animated, and had us figuratively screaming ‘why isn’t there more of this?’ at the screen. The three birds run off after your phone starts ringing, and they scatter fiercely to the three different Wild Areas in Galar. That’s right, this is a quest that has you not only exploring the new Crown Tundra, but also the Isle of Armor and the original Wild Area. You’re not given much to go on, only that they’re there and you have to track them down.
When you arrive in the areas it’s not straightforward either, you have to work out where they are and how to catch up with them on your own, which compared to the rest of the quests and very much like Galarian Zapdos, is no small feat. The birds are tough, and thankfully they don’t have the same poor draw distance as the rest of the Pokémon so if you lose sight of them, it’s all on you. We loved this quest: it’s new, original, and slightly harkens back to the Legendary Beasts from Gold & Silver. Plus those new designs? Gorgeous!
Overall, the quests are a bit of a mixed bag. None of them are out and out bad, but we would like to have seen the same open-ended solutions and genuine excitement we felt from the Legendary Birds example. Regieleki is adorable though, so bonus points for that. There is also a semi-secret fourth quest found elsewhere in the area that’s about halfway between the Legendary Birds quest and the Regis quest, but we don’t want to spoil anything too much. It’s pretty good though.
But what about the Wild Area itself? Well, like the DLC as a whole, our initial impressions weren’t glowing. The landscapes were samey, full of fog, and confusing at first glance, but as we explored a little bit further – and we left the area full of fog – things immediately improved. There are swathes of connected cave systems, narrow paths, big open space, bodies of water, the works. It’s far less open overall than the Isle of Armor (and left us gagging for the ability to hop down cliffs), but what it felt more like than anything else was a large series of the old routes found in older games (and this one), but evolved.
Narrow paths and strict one-way systems sort of go against the ideology of a quote-unquote ‘Wild Area’, but it absolutely works in context here. What initially felt restrictive and claustrophobic allowed us to explore in a manner we hadn’t been able to anywhere else in the game. We really hope that this is a sign of what we can expect in future instalments because this combined with the bigger Wild Areas feels like the direction the series should absolutely be going in.
As for performance and visuals, well, it’s still marred with the same framedrops and slowdown as the base game, and the Crown Tundra isn’t exactly the most varied of environments. It’s serviceable, but a bit more visual variety in the independent biomes would help enormously with navigation, as the lack of landmarks and extremely basic town map can make things a bit of a chore.
In short, The Crown Tundra is another fine addition to Pokémon Sword & Shield, but it emphasises many of both the highlights and shortcomings of the base games. The highs are excellent, white hot flashes of wonderment, but they’re a little spoiled by a foundation of ageing game design. We would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Isle of Armor, but considering if you’ve paid for that you’ve already paid for this, it’s hard to argue otherwise. The Crown Tundra offers a glimpse of a possible future, and what it does well it does seriously well, but the series as a whole deserves to be completely dug out of the nearly 25 year-old design philosophies that made the originals great. The world has moved on since Pokémon first arrived, and it’s time for the series to catch up.
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